20150526_Howth Harbour and Peninsular Coastal Cliff Walk
When : 26th May 2015
Who : Me and my family
Where : The village and peninsula of Howth, North of Dublin Bay, Ireland.
Start and End Point : DART Railway Station, Howth
Significant heights : Guesstimate Approx. 430 ft. (130 m)
Map Used : Information Leaflet : Experience Howth A Brief Guide and Map, picked up at a little info’ centre kiosk near the harbour.
Summary : A day trip out from Dublin with a gentle explore and discovery of Howth Harbour and the cliff path around the coastal peninsula. Really quite an easy walk but well worth it with many super views, wild flowers a plenty, and nesting sea birds on the cliffs. There’s an opportunity for a pint a little over half-way round and a host of pubs and restaurants in the village …. oh and don’t forget the charming seals !
If you click on a pic’, it should launch as a larger image on my photostream on flickr. There are also some more pic’s of the day in Howth, if you just want photo’s I’ve created a set of photos of Howth in Ireland.
We had booked a 4-day/3-night trip to Dublin as a family, mostly to take in the delights of Dublin itself, but with the idea of heading out to Howth village at some point in the break for a drink and probably a meal depending on the weather and how the day would pan out.
Well, the Tuesday looked like it would be good weather-wise, so it was agreed that would be the best day for a trip to the sea-side. However, the day was a little slow to get going and we actually had grey, overcast, damp conditions as we walked down O’Connell Street, Over O’Connell Bridge, along Burgh Quay alongside the Liffey to reach Tara Street DART station. We obtained tickets for the short journey out of Dublin, heading north and then around to the east with the train terminating at Howth Station. As a rule, you kind of get a different take on a city when viewed from a train, with the rump end of the town on view. Dublin was no exception, and the graffiti and the like makes for an interesting contrast to the glitz of new glass and steel buildings or the splendour of older buildings with their grand stone facades etc.
It was ever so slightly drizzling when we alighted the train, but this soon ceased and some pale blue sky was showing through the thinning cloud by the time we’d walked up the west pier, passing a series of fresh fish outlets, restaurants and fish processing units. These, along with a couple of fishing boats moored side by side on the quay-side were indicative of a proper working harbour. In fact, a couple of fishermen were doing some maintenance work on a very industrial looking contraption hanging over the stern of one of these boats.
Heading back to land brought us past a skip, I would think containing a good proportion of discarded fish bits from the nearby processing plant. Why do I think this ?, because there were a multitude of gulls scavenging on and in the skip and wheeling around us in a swirling ever changing mass of beaks and feathers. It’s surprising just how agile in the air these rather large birds are, and powerful, noisy and graceful in equal measure too.
Upon reaching the front/promenade we turned left on a path heading through an attractive lawned area separating the harbour from the road and car-parking. The more industrial harbour area gave way to a more gentile marina with a multitude of posh looking yachts moored in neat lines. It always surprises me just how much money is tied up (literally) in these marinas. There must have been thousands upon thousands of Euro’s (if not millions of Euro’s) just sat bobbing up and down doing absolutely nothing at all and probably for most of the year too. It kind of puts the recent financial crisis into perspective really. Even in the depths of a “first-world” recession, there are people who can afford to buy, maintain and pay mooring costs of these vessels. It’s not a wonder that half of northern Africa wants to come to live in Europe. Sorry, I got a tad political there; it’s not a criticism, just an observation about our lifestyles. Perhaps we’re not as poorly off as we’d like to think we are, or at least we’re not as hard-up as some people in power would like us to believe.
Anyway, back to Howth ….
The Howth Peninsula sits protruding out to the north of Dublin Bay, the lump of land nearly forming an island, all but for a narrow strip of land adjoining it to mainland Ireland. There is a small attractive island just north of Howth village/harbour, with an interesting mix of shoreline, grassy slopes and craggy rocks and cliff faces. It carries the strange name of Ireland’s Eye (or Inis Mac Neasáin in the Gaelic). Beyond this Lambay Island can be seen in the distance. The flight path of many planes heading into Dublin Airport bisects above and between these two islands and a steady stream of aircraft could be seen all day long. In particular there were a good proportion of Aer Lingus planes, including Airbus A320’s, just like the one we’d flown in on from Birmingham a couple of days earlier on this very flight path.
As the weather improved still further, we decided that a walk along the cliffs might be in order (we’d half mentioned this back at our hotel the night before) and a leaflet with some sketchy maps was picked up from an information centre kiosk along the prom. It seemed a short route could be had, ascending to “The Summit” (but not the highest point on the peninsula) along the coast before dropping back into the village via a choice of routes. So we set off, I’d like to say at a fair old pace, but no, we had all day with no hurry, so it was really a bit of an amble along the front, joining Balscadden Road which soon rose quite quickly away from the marina area heading at first southwards and then swinging left around to the east passing a series of houses as we went.
The last time we were here, some 15 or 16 years earlier at a guess, we pushed our daughter (a toddler at the time) up the steep road in a push-chair. Now she’s old enough to buy a round of Guinness’ and didn’t need pushing much at-all. Our 13 y.o. son on the other hand hadn’t even been thought of all those years ago, but the only problem with him walking us now, is holding him back. He’s turned into a super little walker under my “tuition”.
The day had warmed considerably now as the sun had by now made a very welcome appearance, enhancing the views back over to Irelands Eye. The water was a lovely turquoisey-blue; if you used your imagination you could almost think it looked Mediterranean. After a while we reached Kilrock Car-Park at the end of the road with a very small shop cum café on the left hand side with a great view over the waters. We bought a bottle of water each, thinking it was starting to warm up, and we’d decided to push on further up the cliff path heading off at the far end of the car park area.
The path was well trodden and good underfoot, climbing at a steady incline and we soon reached a series of steps climbing a little steeper up the headland (I think this point is called The Nose of Howth), the steps were an easy climb and we soon resumed the dusty path again, now swinging around to the right to be heading more or less southwards. The cliffs to our left, where they tumbled steeply down into the sea, gave home to nesting sea birds, a place for cormorants to sun themselves and a habitat for patches of thrift (sea pinks), grasses waving in the breeze, clumps of thorny bright yellow flowered gorse and a host of other pretty flowered low growing plants most of which I have no idea of their names but including some very attractive miniature roses …… I apologize for my ignorance of the native flora.
The path now continued southwards, still climbing steadily, with one or two benches to sit and admire the view and a number of bright yellow warning signs, warning of the dangers of falling over the cliffs. Really unnecessary really as the cliff edge dropping off quickly is kind of obvious. This is also thought by a certain proportion of the populace as well, as some of the signs were used for fly posting a host of mini advertising stickers; one sign in particular was more like an advertising hoarding, with the base message being completely obscured by what I think were mostly foreign stickers.
We had now long lost the view over the marina but this was replaced by a different vista, including a headland pointing out towards Dublin Bay, the tip of the rocky arm populated by a lighthouse. Over on the far side of the bay we could see the coast of Dun Laoghaire/Dalkey and beyond that, The Wicklow Mountains as a soft bluey silhouette against the sky. The coast path carries on down onto the lighthouse peninsula, but that wasn’t for us, as we needed to branch off to the right ascending a roughish path (quite steeply in comparison to the path just walked up) to reach The Summit Car-Park. The climb wasn’t long by any means and we soon reached the car-park and then joined Bailey Green Road, descending away from the coast into an area of housing. After a short time along the road we reached a more major road junction over-looked by The Summit Inn.
Now, being guests in a foreign land, it would have been just plain rude to just walk on by, don’t you agree? Well we thought so, so headed in to the bar, obtained a round of drinks (including a couple of Guinness’, for me and daughter) and headed back outside to sit on the front terrace to watch the world go by at a quite relaxed pace.
Once our thirsts had been quenched, we headed off again … heading across the green in front of us to pick up a made up track after passing through a gap in a low stone wall. This track is the bed of an old tramway, which heads down the hill all the way back to Howth Railway Station. It in-effect bisects an area of housing, but with wide verges and banks of vegetation, grasses, shrubs, trees and various common hedgerow flowers plus some plants that have obviously “escaped” from the local gardens and are now naturalising themselves in the semi-wide environment. I was particularly taken by a large clump of nightshade in flower. There’s something about the bright purple and yellow blooms that shouts “poisonous”.
The way was very easy, and we’d soon crossed straight over Kitestown Road, Grey’s Lane and Dungriffin Road, descending at a steady gradient. It was a few minutes after crossing the last of these roads that I realised we could have turned right and left into Dungriffin Villas (road) to pick up a path dropping into Howth Village via the bottom of a steep sided valley. However, we didn’t feel like back-tracking, but as the path bent around to the left in a sweeping curve there was a break in the right hand bank with a narrow pathway heading down and across some rough scrubland, going in the general direction that suggested it might pick up with the valley path seen below us. I was right, it did, and having carefully passed through a little stand of gorse, it afforded a fantastic view northwards down Howth Village Main Street, over the ornate tower of a church (Church of the Assumption I think) and over the marina to Ireland’s Eye island and beyond out to sea.
The impromptu detour was worth it just for this one view, and yes the narrow path did drop down to the village, but the girls felt their footwear maybe wasn’t up to the steepish descent on the dusty path, so we made our way back up to the tramway within a couple of minutes, turning right along the route as before. We soon reached and turned right down Balkin road and then right again at Balglass Road, which in turn became Main Street as it took a left bend.
We had now dropped quite considerably in height and were now well and truly in a built up area passing homes, shops, a library, pubs, the ruins of an old Abbey and the church we’d been looking down on just a few minutes earlier.
We continued on downwards, just following our noses really, to re-join the marina/promenade area near the landward end of The East Pier. Not wanting to leave Howth just yet, there were four obvious choices on what to do next :-
- Find a pub for more drinkies (not really necessary).
- Find a restaurant for a meal (just a tad too early).
- Just sit and do nothing, (taking in the sights and sounds of Howth in the sunshine).
- Or find an ice cream shop and then sit and do not-a-lot in the sun.
This Last option won quite easily … and the ice cream was excellent bought from a shop on the front.
Really, this walk’s write-up could end right now with a note to say, walk along the front to the station and catch the DART train back to Dublin, but we didn’t do that, nope, the following paragraph(s) will finish off the description of our day, so you might like to continue reading.
Once our ice creams had been eaten, we headed back along the prom to the start of the east pier once again, where we wondered why one building has the Olympic Rings displayed on the sky blue walls. I guess I’ll have to investigate further at some point in the future. We also passed by the posh boats in the marina once again. I fancied a walk out to the lighthouses at the end of the pier, but the others didn’t fancy that, so the girls sat on a bench chatting and doing crosswords in the sun whilst my son went clambering around on the rocks on the far side of the pier (overlooking the picturesque Balscadden Bay) and I went off on my own on top of the strong sea wall, just me and my camera.
As with many piers, the length can be quite deceptive, and I reckoned it was maybe half a mile to reach the far end with its two lighthouses, the furthest one out being pristinely white-washed with a bright red railing at the top standing out against the now deep blue sky and fluffy white clouds. I’m not sure if I really captured an excitingly captivating image of the two structures, but hey I tried.
Heading back I decided to try something a bit different from a photographic sense, just trying to be arty with colour, detail and composition in some dock side buildings : so, Red Doors/Symmetry, Blue Door with yellow squares, Blue Vents, Yellow Chains, etc. became my subject matter, pretty much ignoring the obvious of boats in the safe haven of the harbour.
A tad further back towards land, a side arm of the pier took me down to a different looking sculpture named “Realt Na Mara” (Star of the Sea). A completely stainless steel slender mast topped-off with a set of equally shiny stainless steel spikes in a three dimensional star. I don’t often like modern sculptures, but this one I did, albeit it seems a little out of keeping with the aesthetic of the rest of Howth. The reflections in the polished metal almost made it disappear from view, even from a few feet away. Now here was a photographic challenge if ever I saw one, and I think I made a fair fist of capturing its essence (well at least I hope I did) and then I played around with some fun shots of reflections including a distorted “selfie”, or should that be self-portrait.
Well time had moved on and we decided a meal would now be in order, so another stroll back along the front brought us back to The West Pier and the series of fish restaurants. Somehow we settled on Crabby Jo’s (part of Wright’s of Howth). A good meal was had, including BBQ wings, Mussels, Crab Claws and Whitebait for starters, and Hake, a couple of Fish Pies and a Half-Lobster with Crab Meat for mains (we didn’t need a dessert). After eating we headed back over to the harbour side and were fortunate enough to see a group of seals bobbing and diving and generally swimming around I’m sure having fun in the lovely evening light.
Well, that put the seal (please excuse the pun) on a simply super day at the seaside, except we got to the DART station just after a train had left. So, what to do to whilst waiting for the next train ? … The answer was obvious really, so we headed into the pub situated in a building directly under the station and sat in the sun on the outside terrace drinking – Yep you’ve guessed it, another Guinness.
Well, that’s it I’m afraid. We caught the train back to central Dublin and made our way to our hotel. I hope you enjoyed my scribblings …. If you’d like to comment on my diary or any of my pic’s please feel welcome. I’d love to hear from you.